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A (very) Brief Overview of the Jury System

A (very) Brief Overview of the Jury System

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A (very) Brief Overview of the Jury System

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  1. A (very) Brief Overviewof the Jury System

  2. What is a Jury? • Jurare = Latin; to swear or take an oath • A group of citizens (peers) legally selected and sworn to inquire into any matter of fact and to give their verdict according to the evidence

  3. Medieval Times in England • Most trials had a religious context • Conducted by clergymen or other church officials • Later, when kings controlled the courts, jurors who ruled against the king might have property seized, face imprisonment or be separated from their families

  4. Before there were juries, there were three general methods of “trial…”

  5. Wager of Law • Accused person took an oath, swearing to a fact • If someone with a good reputation swore they were innocent, they were acquitted! (found not guilty) • But…

  6. Compurgation • If others swore against the accused, the accused had to bring in 11 supporters (compurgators) • These 12 people (including the accused) took an oath as character witnesses, not saying the accused was innocent • If accused was found guilty, compurgators could also be punished!

  7. Trial by Ordeal • Used primarily in criminal cases of in offenses against the king, state or church • Repeat offenders, or an accused who could not get 11 compurgators, had to endure some sort of physical test to determine guilt or innocence • Problem – usually, innocence resulted in bodily harm or even death

  8. Types of Trial by Ordeal • Trial by Hot Water • Accused was “cleansed” by prayer and fasting • Had to reach into boiling water to retrieve a ring • If got burned, accused was guilty • If not, a miracle proved innocence

  9. Trial by Cold Water Used in Salem Witch trials The accused was bound and put in a body of water If sank, then pure enough to be accepted by the water If floated, considered full of sin, therefore, guilty!

  10. Trial by Fire The accused were subjected to hot coals or a white-hot iron If not burned, innocent If burned, guilty

  11. Development of Trial by Jury • After trials by ordeal • Juries were used primarily in civil cases • Juries could be manipulated by rulers, so… • The church supported impartiality of jurors

  12. Other Changes • Attorneys began to bring in witnesses to corroborate facts, even if the witness did not know the accused • Witnesses began to testify before both the judge and jury (not simply before the judge) • Juries began to decide only questions of fact, while the judge focused on questions of law

  13. The American System • By the time the colonists came to America, the right to trial by jury was considered essential • Being denied the right is mentioned as a complaint against the British in the Declaration of Independence • Today, the jury is essential to guaranteeing the freedoms protected by…

  14. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution • Applies to all criminal prosecution • Guarantees the right to: • a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district where the crime was committed • Be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation • Be confronted with witnesses in his favor • Have the assistance of counsel for his defense • BUT the accused may choose to be tried before a judge only

  15. The Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution • Applies to all civil cases involving more than $20 • Preserves the right to a trial by jury, if any party in the suit wants one… as long as the subject matter was available in 1791! • Also says that a jury’s decision is FINAL; their verdict can only be reversed if there is a significant error of law (improper jury instruction, admission of evidence, procedural error or misinterpretation of a statute)

  16. What’s in it for you? • Gives the average citizen an opportunity to participate in the democratic process • Gives the power to preserve & protect freedom • Lends credibility to the judicial system and its processes • One day, IT MIGHT BE YOU!